Dallas, Texas is my home town. Over fifty years ago my friend, Merry, and I invited our new friend, Tonya, to lunch. She was the golden throated, luminously beautiful star of our Dallas Theater Center Teen-Children’s Christmas Spectacular, The Snow Queen, the Hans Christian Anderson story that would be immortalized decades later in the movie, Frozen.
We were all very proud of the fact that our Snow Queen was Black, a gentle, intelligent, joyful young woman, just turned 14, on the cusp of learning what the adult world was all about.
After rehearsal we were starving, eager to chow into a cheeseburger and fries. We entered a restaurant close to the theater and took a seat by the window, talking on and on, as teenage girls do, of the new steps in our dance (Merry and I were lowly ice sprites in the chorus), and the crush I had on our choreographer. Merry and I were blown away with the beauty of Tonya’s solo, as the Snow Queen sang of her power to transform an icy world.
After what must have been over thirty minutes, we noticed that other people around us were already eating. A nervous, middle-aged waitress approached our table. She spoke only to Tonya, “This isn’t right but my manager says I can’t serve you.”
Blood surged to my face. Merry glared at the waitress. Tonya’s eyes found a crumpled napkin on the table.
“Let’s get out of here, “ I said, “And we are never coming back!”
Outside I continued to rage. Merry cried and spit on the ground. Tonya didn’t look at us. We walked back to the theater. She called her mother. We never went out to lunch again. A burgeoning friendship ended that day in shame, guilt, shock, confusion. At Christmas Tonya played the Snow Queen beautifully, but it seemed she no longer sang of a Queen’s power, but as a young woman Black woman, saddened by a vision of the world to come.
In the wake of the shootings this week in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas, I grieve that humanity has so easily forgotten that we all evolved from the first Africans; that we all had black skin until some of us migrated north where the sun rose over fields of ice and snow. Only then did we become pale, ultimately choosing to marginalize, dominate, and fear our black ancestors.
As President Obama reminded us today in his speech from Poland, there has been progress. If my friends and I walked into that Dallas restaurant today, they would readily serve our Black Snow Queen. A Black woman may even own the place. But we still have a long way to go before the majority of us confront our own racism, and translate this into compassionate action. I like to think Tonya, the Black Snow Queen, is calling on each of us to do whatever we can to move this consciousness, and this conversation forward. To transform those fateful words, “We can’t serve you,” into “We will serve, honor, and respect all human creatures who inhabit our beautiful Earth.”